Ghost Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

Ghost peppers, scientifically known as Bhut Jolokia, are one of the hottest chili peppers in the world. Originating from India, they are named “ghost” due to their ghostly bite that hits hard and then dissipates quickly. In 2007, the Guinness World Records recognized the Ghost Pepper as the world’s hottest chili pepper, up to 417 times hotter than a jalapeño. But now, the ghost has been overshadowed by even more intense super-hots like the Carolina Reaper and Pepper X.

The Ghost Pepper measures between 855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville heat units (SHUs). They are characterized by their wrinkled, pointed shape and their red, yellow, orange, or chocolate color when mature. Despite their intense heat, they have a sweet and fruity flavor. Ghost peppers are used in cooking, sauces, and even in military-grade smoke bombs for their ability to irritate the skin and eyes.

Unpretentious Baker – Dried Ghost Peppers, 25 count
Dried ghost peppers add an intense, earthy-sweet heat to your dishes. Even a sliver can heat most meals. Caution very hot! Handle with care.

Last update on 2024-07-14. We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. 

Ghost Pepper
Common red ghost peppers (Bhut Jolokia), note the pock-marked skin

Ghost pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)855,000 – 1,041,427
Median heat (SHU)948,214
Jalapeño reference point107 to 417 times hotter
Capsicum speciesChinense
OriginIndia
UseCulinary
Size2 to 3 inches long, pod-like
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Earthy

How hot are ghost peppers?

Let’s frame the ghost pepper against our jalapeño reference point. Many people feel the jalapeño is rather hot, but in the world of the Scoville scale, it’s a relatively mild to medium chili pepper (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units or SHU). Now multiply the jalapeños heat by up to 400. That’s the potential of ghost pepper (855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU.)

Or compare it to the intense heat of a habanero or scotch bonnet (both 100,000 to 350,000 SHU). It’s four to eight times spicier than those hot chilies. It’s so spicy that the Indian army has made it into military-grade smoke bombs and local residents smear the ghost pepper on fences and walls to keep wild elephants from entering certain areas.

It seems those elephants know something maybe we humans don’t because the Bhut Jolokia has attracted a lot of attention among us with its fabulous heat. It held the crown with the Guinness Book of World Records, until it was beaten by the intense Butch T Scorpion for the official title and then by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion as the unofficial overall heat winner. Both were taken over in 2013 by the Carolina Reaper and, as of 2023, the Pepper X.

So, yes, the Bhut Jolokia is a super-hot pepper, but it’s nowhere near the heat of the most intense super-hots around. Both the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and the Carolina Reaper can be easily twice as hot (and the Reaper at its hottest verges on three times hotter than the mildest ghost pepper).

Though what’s interesting about the ghost’s spiciness is its slow burn. Some super-hots attack the front of your mouth with full force quickly. You know it’s dangerous the minute you bite. The ghost chili plays differently. It’s extremely hot on first bite, but the heat slowly builds, moving to the back of your throat, and lingers for a prolonged time. For some, it can take 15 to 30 minutes to clear the intensity of the heat.

Because of this prolonged extreme heat and formidable name, the ghost pepper has become something of a legend in chili pepper eating dares. Many popular YouTube videos have been shot of people downing a raw Bhut Jolokia in a few quick bites. And then the body’s responses begin. Over time, the heat of this pepper will bring out hiccups, intense burning, numbness, eye-watering, and general sweating.

For deeper comparisons on the heat and flavor of the ghost, take a look at our showdowns which compare it to other popular chilies:

What do they look like and taste like?

The fruits are pod-like, growing two to three inches in length. The typical Bhut Jolokia ages from green to red, like most hot peppers. The pods themselves taper to a point – not as pronounced as the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’s tail, but it’s there. And like other super-hots the skin takes on a wrinkled, pock-marked texture. Like all super-hots, there’s a danger to the look, like this is not something to be trifled with lightly.

There is a flavor beyond the extreme spiciness, believe it or not. This chili has a slow-building heat, so you experience the flavor (for at least a few seconds) before the hammer drops. They have a sweet, fruity flavor typical of many super-hot peppers, but underneath it is a light smokiness as well.

Of course, that all disappears once the heat builds (and lasts). At the end, the predominant take-away will be very painful spiciness that can last for 15 minutes or more.

Ghost pepper variants

There are multiple color variants to this chili. All share similar heat profiles and a general sweetness, but some have slight differences.

  • Chocolate: This variety has a rich, smoky flavor and is slightly less spicy than the original, though still extremely hot. Its unique brown color gives it the name “chocolate”.
  • Yellow: This variant is slightly less spicy than the original Bhut Jolokia, with a heat level around 800,000 SHU. It has a fruitier, more tropical flavor.
  • Peach: This variant has a slightly lower heat level than the original, with a unique peachy color. It has a similar sweet, earthy flavor to the common Bhut Jolokia.
  • White: This is a rare variant, with a heat level similar to the original. It has a unique white color and a slightly less fruity flavor.
  • Purple: This is another rare variant, with a heat level similar to the original. Its unique purple color makes it a standout, and it has a slightly more savory flavor.
  • Orange: This variant has a similar heat level to the original Bhut Jolokia, with a bright orange color. Its flavor is often described as citrusy and slightly sweet.
One of the color variants you’ll find in Bhut Jolokia – the chocolate ghost pepper

Cooking with ghost peppers

Just like with any super-hot, ghost peppers are so spicy that special precautions should be taken in their handling. Wear gloves, at minimum to keep significant chili burn at bay. But if you’re sensitive to capsaicin (the compound that gives chilies their heat), then we recommend wearing eye goggles and even a face mask when handling the Bhut Jolokia.

We also recommend, understanding how to handle chili burn whenever cooking with ghost peppers (or any super-hot chili.) Chili burn at this level of intensity can be extremely painful, and it can occur even if you’ve taken every precaution above. Read our “jalapeño in eye” post (how to handle chili burn in this sensitive area) — it all holds true for Bhut Jolokia. As well, our general post on treating chili burn is a must precautionary read.

More tips:

  • Remove the pith (the white membrane) to make the ghost pepper milder. Much of the heat in any chili is held in this membrane. Removal of it (often done when removing seeds), helps decrease the overall spiciness. Still, we’re talking about a mighty hot pepper, so still proceed with caution. And the opposite is true: If you want the hottest possible experience from your Bhut Jolokia, leave the membrane intact.
  • Roasting any pepper prior to use tends to make it milder. The roasting removes some of the capsaicin oil from the chili, and that oil isn’t immediately absorbed into other foods (when the Bhut Jolokia is roasted alone.) See our post on Does Cooking Peppers Make Them Hotter?
  • If your Bhut has cracks or stretches on the skin, take extra care on handling. Some handle uncut Bhut Jolokia without gloves (not recommended), but small cracks or stretches can actually be releasing capsaicin oils from the interior of the fruit, making you more susceptible to chili burn.

–> Learn More: Cooking with Ghost Peppers – 7 Must-Follow Rules

Common ghost pepper ingredient pairings

Yes, the Bhut Jolokia sits among the hottest peppers in the world, but that’s not to say that you can’t do amazing culinary things with them. Some of the most popular hot sauces in the world feature the Bhut Jolokia as the main hot pepper ingredient, and it’s common to see it as an ingredient in Indian cuisine, Tex-Mex, curries, salsas, and BBQ sauces. Let’s take a look at some of the most common pairings for this chili in the kitchen.

  • Mango: The sweetness of mangoes can help balance out the intense heat of ghost peppers, creating a sweet and spicy flavor profile that is popular in many cuisines.
  • Lime: The acidity in lime can help cut through the heat of ghost peppers, providing a refreshing contrast. Lime also brings out the fruity notes in the pepper, enhancing its flavor.
  • Garlic: Garlic’s robust, earthy flavor pairs well with the intense heat of ghost peppers, adding depth and complexity to dishes.
  • Honey: Honey’s natural sweetness can help temper the spiciness of ghost peppers, creating a balanced sweet and spicy flavor that can be used in a variety of dishes.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar’s acidity can help to neutralize some of the heat from ghost peppers, while also enhancing their natural fruity flavor.
  • Chocolate: This might sound unusual, but the richness of chocolate can actually complement the heat of ghost peppers, creating a unique flavor combination that’s both spicy and sweet.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes have a natural sweetness and acidity that can balance out the heat of ghost peppers. This pairing is often used in salsas and sauces.
  • Pineapple: Pineapple’s natural sweetness and acidity can help to balance the intense heat of ghost peppers, creating a tropical flavor profile that’s both hot and sweet.
  • Coconut Milk: The creaminess of coconut milk can help to soothe the burn of ghost peppers, while its sweetness complements their fruity flavor.
  • Cilantro: Cilantro’s fresh, citrusy flavor can provide a refreshing contrast to the heat of ghost peppers, adding complexity and balance to spicy dishes, particularly salsas.

Must-read related posts

100 Spicy Recipes from
Around the World

$9.99 (ebook)

Explore the world of spicy food through these delicious globally inspired recipes! From tasty handhelds and bold soups to fiery pastas, meals, desserts, and more. PDF AND EPUB provided. Kindle ready.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 7, 2024 to include new content.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

5 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Colin

Even though I’m not some one who usually likes food that spicy I decided to try and grow them this past summer; my preferred heat level is Serrano peppers, I know weak tongue.
I dried mine I like using a pinch of the flakes to make a spicy tea to make spicy noodles with. (Vent your kitchen, I forgot to last time I made it and pepper bombed everyone in the house)

Diswel

I want to know actually at what temperature we can store Ghost pepper and how long its shelf life?

Salient

I grow Ghost pepper every year and I will share this with you: -You don’t need to handle them with gloves unless you chop them or process a hot sauce. Even then, the heat will penetrate your surgical gloves and get into your hands. Avoid rubbing your eyes or genitals, or you will be spending extra time in the shower before opening your eyes. I suggest you put on a fresh pair of surgical gloves when showering. The heat of the pepper will stay in your hands for a few days. -Ghost peppers don’t have long shelf life. Like Habanero… Read more »

Joseph Greene

In Houston we have habaneros and ghost peppers at our brick and mortar! Being Texas we like everything a bit bigger and that goes for heat!